For Hill staffers, Cruz’s ‘liked’ porn tweet a nightmare scenario

For Hill staffers, Cruz’s ‘liked’ porn tweet a nightmare scenario
© Greg Nash

Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzSenate Dems hold floor talk-a-thon against latest ObamaCare repeal bill Overnight Finance: CBO to release limited analysis of ObamaCare repeal bill | DOJ investigates Equifax stock sales | House weighs tougher rules for banks dealing with North Korea GOP state lawmakers meet to plan possible constitutional convention MORE’s (R-Texas) Twitter mishap late Monday night involving a pornographic account is nightmare fuel for congressional staffers who are increasingly tasked with managing social media for their bosses.

Twitter and Facebook have become crucial communication tools for members of Congress, helping them stake out their positions, interact with constituents and attract media attention. As a result, staffers spend many of their work hours managing and cultivating lawmakers’ social media presences.

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But in an era where an inadvertent retweet or insensitive Facebook comment can balloon into controversy, the task can be perilous. And smartphone apps have only further blurred the line between work and personal accounts.

“My anonymous advice — keep personal and work accounts on different phones, and take a minute to pause and double check details before hitting that send button,” said one GOP committee aide.

Cruz this week began trending on social media after his official political Twitter account “liked” a two-minute pornographic video. The Texas Republican blamed the incident on a “staffing issue,” with many speculating the failure to switch from an official account to a personal one could be responsible for the action.

“There are a number of people on the team that have access to the account, and it appears that someone inadvertently hit the like button,” Cruz told reporters on Tuesday.

Though it’s rare that such graphic content shows up in lawmakers’ feeds, it’s not uncommon for communications staffers to post things on the wrong account.

A former Democratic House aide who twice mistakenly tweeted personal pictures from his boss’s account spoke of the shock that many staffers feel when managing both personal and professional accounts.

“Even though I caught my mistake in less than 10 seconds both times — and what I tweeted wasn’t offensive or graphic — my stomach dropped and I kept saying ‘no, no, no, no, no, no’ inside my head until I was able to delete the tweets and refresh my boss’s Twitter page about 10 times to confirm it was gone,” said the former staffer, who asked not to be identified for this article.

The former staffer said he later began using different social media accounts on separate internet browsers as a precaution — signing into one Twitter account on Firefox and another on Google Chrome, for example — and taking extra time to review each post.

The aide was reprimanded for his mistakes but held on to his job.

Other staffers have paid stiffer prices for their personal conduct on Twitter.

In 2011, Rep. Rick LarsenRick LarsenFor Hill staffers, Cruz’s ‘liked’ porn tweet a nightmare scenario Dem lawmaker: ‘Idiocy’ for ESPN to remove announcer Robert Lee from Virginia football game Trump's 'infrastructure week' goes off the rails MORE (D-Wash.) fired three staffers who had been tweeting about drinking on the job and complaining about their boss.

An aide to former Rep. Steve Fincher (R-Tenn.) resigned in 2014 after she tweeted that then-President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaGOP rep: North Korea wants Iran-type nuclear deal Dems fear lasting damage from Clinton-Sanders fight Iran's president warns US will pay 'high cost' if Trump ditches nuclear deal MORE’s daughters should “show a little class” during their appearance at an annual turkey pardoning.

And an adviser to former Rep. Aaron Schock (R-Ill.) resigned in 2015 after a Facebook post comparing black people to “zoo animals” surfaced online.

Many congressional aides have seemingly caught on about the risks that social media holds for them and their bosses, but running an official Twitter account always brings the possibility of embarrassment.

During the 2013 Super Bowl, a spokesman for Rep. Raúl Labrador (R-Idaho) mistakenly sent an off-color tweet from the congressman’s Twitter account about a commercial featuring two women. The staffer was later fired.

Cruz on Wednesday declined to “out the fellow” responsible for liking the pornographic video on his account early this week, saying only that it was a staffer and his office has “dealt with it internally.”

“It was a screw-up,” Cruz told CNN’s Dana Bash. “It has prompted a lot of jokes, I understand that.”

“It was an honest mistake; it wasn’t malicious; it wasn’t deliberate. It was a screw-up,” he added. “We have talked with the staffer. It’s not gonna happen again.”

Communications staffers who live in fear of mixing up their professional and personal accounts often take extra care when they tweet.

The former Democratic staffer, who still manages Twitter accounts for a living, also employs social media apps to help keep the different feeds in order even while maintaining them on different browsers.

“Additional accounts are only used through third-party apps like HootSuite and not the actual, original Twitter account,” he said.

“Even then, I confirm to myself — even if I have to say it out loud — four times that I’m not tweeting the wrong thing on the wrong account.”